THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The death of theoretical physicist Thanu Padmanabhan, 64, on Friday left a huge void in the scientific community. The city too lost its son. Padmanabhan, whose main field of interest was quantum theory, gravitation, cosmology and structure formation in the universe, was revered by the scientific community. The community had even pinned its Nobel Prize hopes on him.
“His death is an irreparable loss. He pioneered many ideas. He loved poetry and was a complete Keralite and patriot. He could have gone to any university in the world, but chose to work in India,” said researcher and science writer A Rajagopal Kamath. Fondly called ‘Paddy’ by friends and colleagues, Padmanabhan was known for teaching complex topics in a simple manner.
N Shaji, former head of the physics department of Maharaja’s College, recalled, “I remember inviting him to the college for a lecture. Despite a strike on the day, the hall was packed with students, some of them from other colleges. He spoke with clarity and students loved his classes. He too loved talking to them and imparting knowledge.”
Born on March 10, 1957, in Thiruvananthapuram, Padmanabhan was an alumnus of University College from where he passed BSc and MSc with gold medal. He was scheduled to deliver a luminary lecture at the university’s physics department later this year. “We were looking forward to it. He wanted an offline session as he wished to interact with students,” said K S Sibi, head of the physics department, adding, “He was a great person. I am happy to have known him.” One of his last students at IUCAA, Karthik Rajeev said ‘Paddy’ was an inspiration to his students.
“All of them have inherited his work culture. He turned everyone into independent thinkers. He would often ask us to approach a problem from a new perspective instead of always sticking to tried and tested methods,” says Karthik, a postdoctoral fellow at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Kolkata.
Had refused VC post
Former education minister M A Baby, who mourned Padmanabhan, said in 2006, he had asked whether the physicist would like to be the vice-chancellor of Kerala University if they invited him. “Though he said it would be a great honour, Padmanabhan refused requesting that he be allowed to focus on his research. He chose to stay in India. We expected him to get a Nobel Prize,” said Baby.